The collection, retention, and use of DNA evidence in a criminal matter can raise various privacy concerns. In a recent Maryland case, a homeless man, George Varriale, voluntarily provided his own DNA samples to the local county police department in order to clear himself as a suspect in an alleged rape case. Here, the detective investigating the alleged rape identified himself to Varriale, told him why he was in the area, and asked if he would be willing to sign a form consenting to be searched. Varriale agreed to the search, signed a consent form, and provided DNA samples. While he was cleared of the rape charges, Varriale’s DNA later matched a DNA profile that was associated with an unrelated burglary incident.
Based on this evidence, he was charged with two counts of second-degree burglary, malicious destruction of property, and theft over $1,000, all in connection with a burglary that took place in 2008. Varriale moved to suppress the DNA evidence, which the court denied. Later, Varriale agreed to a conditional guilty plea to burglary in the second degree. After the sentencing phase, Varriale appealed the court’s denial of the motion to suppress, arguing two essential points: 1) by retaining and analyzing his DNA samples after he was eliminated as a suspect in the alleged rape, the police conducted an unreasonable and warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and 2) under the Maryland DNA Collection Act, the state was not permitted to retain his DNA once he had been cleared of suspicion in the investigation for which his sample had been taken.
The court of special appeals rejected both arguments and upheld the court’s denial of the motion to suppress. Regarding Varriale’s contention that the police exceeded the scope of his consent to a search, the court concluded that the state had no obligation to obtain a warrant before reexamining the DNA sample that was obtained lawfully. Under applicable case law, the court found that once the state lawfully obtains a DNA sample, retention and later examination of the sample does not ordinarily amount to a search. Next, under the plain language of the Maryland DNA Collection Act, in order to trigger the expungement of DNA records, there must have been a criminal action instituted against the person, and that person must not have been convicted of the crime for which he or she was charged. Here, the court concluded that Varriale had never been charged with the alleged rape, nor arrested for it, and therefore he was not entitled to claim the benefit of the statutory expungement provisions. In coming to this conclusion, the court relied upon the plain language of the state statute. Continue reading →